Project or Programme?

Is it a Programme, Portfolio or Project?
Or perhaps it's a Work Package?

Does it deliver Outputs or Outcomes?

What's in a name? 
Read on . . .



News and current events in the project consultancy arena


No new downloadable files are currently available.

Featured Briefing

This month's featured briefing looks at Projects and Programmes.

It discusses the fundamental differences between a Project and a Programme, and explains why some projects are seen as failures even when they have delivered all that they were charged to do.

Click here to read the article.

Is it a Project or a Programme?

It is not unheard of for a project to produce its specified deliverables on time, within budget and to appropriate quality standards only to find that its stakeholders declare the project to be a "failure" and its deliverables to be incomplete or unfit for purpose.

This is often due to the stakeholders and the project team having inconsistent interpretations of the project's scope and what it is expected to deliver. This is typified in the familiar expression:

"The operation was a success but the patient died"

In this situation, the project was probably charged with a specific set of deliverables and, somewhere along the line, the "other stuff" that would make the project's outputs into something beneficial to the business simply got lost.

This is where a Programme (or Portfolio) might have helped.


So, what's the difference?

Although some definitions may differ, the generally accepted answer to this question is:

Projects deliver Outputs, Programmes deliver Outcomes

Some organisations refer to a Programme as a Portfolio (this is typically so in North America).  Others may label a Programme as a Project (and charge that project with delivering a full business benefit). Some projects may decompose their deliverables into Work Packages.

Whatever term is used, it is fundamentally important that the distinction between outputs and outcomes is appreciated and applied accordingly; the label that is used to cover the work then becomes a semantic detail.

Business change, and the attendant business benefit, is normally achieved through programmes. Although projects will enable change and may provide the potential to achieve benefit, it is not until ALL necessary changes have been completed (under a programme) that the full business benefit can be realised.

Simply put, a Programme is a group of Projects which, only when their outputs are combined together, produce the desired business benefit or outcome.


Consider a supermarket chain that wishes to sell a new motor fuel via its existing forecourts.

A project could be established to upgrade the existing fuel pumps in all of the forecourts. This would be achieved within an agreed timescale, at an agreed cost and to the appropriate quality standards.

If completed as planned, the project should be regarded as a success because it delivered the upgraded fuel pumps to the agreed time, cost and quality constraints.

However, in this simplified example, the project would not deliver a business benefit because the project was charged with delivery of an output (upgraded fuel pumps) and not with the outcome (selling the new fuel to the customer at a profit). But that does NOT mean that the project per se failed.

A well managed business would have established a properly structured programme to ensure that other projects would deliver outputs such as promoting customer awareness of the new fuel (marketing), supplying the new fuel, upgrading the tills, training the staff, and so forth. Only when all aspects of the business process had been addressed successfully would the programme deliver the beneficial outcome of selling the new fuel at a profit.

How Projectia can help

Projectia's consultants are highly experienced project and programme specialists who can help to ensure that any business change produces the desired (beneficial) outcomes.

Please contact Projectia to discover how we could reduce risk and improve the cost effectiveness of your business change initiatives.

Business Consultancy Project Management Project Health Checks Project Recovery
themed object
Projectia Ltd - Business consultants and project management specialists
Bookmark and Share